An estimated 132,600 Manitobans aged 15 and older used cannabis in the first three months of 2019, according to new survey data from Statistics Canada.
That puts Manitoba's cannabis-use rate at 13 per cent — significantly lower than the national rate of nearly 18 per cent.
On paper, Manitoba's first-quarter cannabis-use rate is lower compared to the same period in 2018 (16.6 per cent). But Statistics Canada doesn't consider that variance statistically significant, Michelle Rotermann, a senior analyst with the agency's health analysis division, said Thursday.
Quebec registered the lowest rate in Canada during the three-month period (11 per cent); Ontario (20 per cent) and Alberta (nearly 22 per cent) topped the national average. On a national basis, the cannabis-use rate among those 15 and older rose from 14 per cent in the same period last year.
The 2019 figure represents about 5.3 million Canadians who used cannabis at least once in the three-month period, although it doesn't distinguish between those who use it for medical purposes, for recreation, or both.
Changing habits among Canadians aged 45 to 64 are part of the reason behind the increase in national rates, wrote the statistics authority. Rates of cannabis use in that age group increased to 14 per cent, from nine per cent a year earlier.
That finding doesn't surprise Mike Babins, co-owner of Vancouver's first provincially-licensed cannabis store, Evergreen Cannabis. In his experience, customers in that age bracket are especially keen on cannabis products with CBD, which is non-intoxicating.
"We do get a lot of people in that age group who come and say, 'I can't keep drinking every night, I want to try something different,'" said Babins.
"There's a lot of people who were always curious about it and were waiting for it to be legal, either because of their jobs or because they wanted to make sure they were getting quality product. And there's a huge curiosity factor — you know, there's a new toy in town."
The Statistics Canada data suggests older Canadians were indeed interested in experimenting with cannabis after legalization, either for the first time or for the first time in a long time.
Among the 5.3 million Canadians who used cannabis in the first quarter of 2019, an estimated 646,000 tried it for the first time — nearly double the corresponding figure for first-time users in 2018. About half of those new users were 45 or older.
Still, young Canadians and (especially) males remained the demographic groups most likely to consume cannabis. Among males aged 15 and up, rates of cannabis use grew to 22 per cent, up from 16 per cent in the first quarter of 2018. Females used cannabis at a rate of about 13 per cent, little changed from a year earlier.
The rate of daily or near-daily cannabis use in Canada remained unchanged between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.
The new data may be encouraging for the federal government, as diminishing the black market for cannabis is an explicit goal of legalization. In the first quarter of 2018, 51 per cent of cannabis users told Statistics Canada they got their cannabis from an illegal source. That proportion shrank to 38 per cent during the same period this year.
(Some Canadians get their cannabis from both legal and illegal sources, notes the national data agency.)
The national cannabis survey doesn't measure rates of impaired driving, but it does ask respondents about their attitudes on the subject.
Forty-nine per cent of Canadians believe it's best to wait at least three hours after using cannabis before hitting the road, and only six per cent said it's safe to drive within three hours of using cannabis. The remaining 45 per cent said the safety of driving after using cannabis depends on individual factors, such as the user's weight or how the cannabis is used.
That attitude was different among daily cannabis users, about 18 per cent of whom felt it's safe to drive within three hours of using cannabis.
Solomon Israel is the full-time cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and its national cannabis news website, TheLeafNews.com. He covers the social, legal, medical and scientific aspects of marijuana legalization in Manitoba and the rest of Canada.